Home Publications Research Report Climate change, environmental stress and loss of livelihoods can push people towards illegal activities: a case study from coastal Bangladesh

Climate change, environmental stress and loss of livelihoods can push people towards illegal activities: a case study from coastal Bangladesh

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This paper aims to understand how environmental stressors influence people’s livelihood options in the coastal belt of Bangladesh. We argue that environmental stressors such as cyclones, riverbank erosion, salinity intrusion, and floods have negative impacts on people’s lives by reducing their livelihood options. Twelve in-depth interviews (Livelihood Histories) and twelve Focus Group Discussions (FGD) based on two Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) tools (Village Timeline and Contextual Change) were carried out in three different sites in coastal Bangladesh were conducted under the study. Our study finds that when there are insufficient adaptation strategies to environmental stressors, many people turn to livelihoods banned by the government. These ‘illegal livelihoods’ include using fine mesh nets to collect shrimp fry in the rivers as well as logging in the Sundarbans. These people are often the poorestand vulnerable, and law enforcement only exacerbate their vulnerability. We end by concluding those that have turned to ‘illegal livelihoods’ as a result of detrimental environmental stressors should be viewed as a special category of vulnerable people by policymakers, and steps need to be taken to ensure resilience to different environmental stressors.


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Notes on contributors

Istiakh Ahmed is the Coordinator for the Resilient Livelihoods Programme at ICCCAD. He has completed both his BSS and MSS in Anthropology from Jahangirnagar University and has an in-depth experience in social research and its different methodologies. Istiakh joined ICCCAD in 2014 and managed several projects including Gibika (a five-year research to action project), Cap water, Governance for Climate Resilience, and currently, he is managing Panii Jibon project from February 2018. Throughout this period he was actively involved with conducting environmental and social research, capacity building, advocacy and above all guiding the entire team. Working with ICCCAD has given him a closer understanding over Climate Change and environmental aspects of the social issues. Istiakh has also been actively involved with giving trainings on climate change basics and management of climate change-related projects to youth for many years. While completing his university studies, Istiakh has been involved with a number of social research projects with Plan International and an individual consultant, Dr Zahir Ahmed (Professor of Jahangirnagar University and Senior research fellow of SOAS University). Before joining ICCCAD, Istiakh worked with BRAC Development Institute (BDI), BRAC University on projects focused on primary education and internal migration in Bangladesh. His research interest areas are livelihood resilience, Climate Change vulnerabilities, Climate Change adaptation, environmentally induced migration and social understanding and belief system. Istiakh has published several peer-reviewed journal article as lead author and co-author, working papers, policy briefs, newspaper articles and bulletins and presented his research work in many international conferences.

Dr Sonja Ayeb-Karlsson is a Lecturer in Global Health at BSMS, University of Sussex who researches (im)mobility decisions, migration, health and well-being in the context of environmental stress and climatic changes. She is also a Senior Researcher at UNU-EHS and part of WG1 and WG2 in the Lancet Countdown.

Between the years 2013 and 2018, she worked in Bangladesh as a project manager in collaboration with ICCCAD and MRF. Her research combined quantitative and qualitative methods such as Q, survey design, storytelling methodology, personal life history interviews and discourse analysis with the aim to further develop anthropological research approaches that support the interaction with people facing climatic stress, while exploring alternative ways to communicate research findings through mediums of photography, visual communication and photo films.

Prior to this, she was involved in a community-led initiative in Argentina that focused on the empowerment and human rights of ethnic minority groups in the northern areas of the country. She was selected to represent Stockholm on the national board of the Swedish Association of International Affairs in 2008. While completing her university studies in Brazil, Dr Ayeb-Karlsson dedicated a considerable amount of time to urban development and educational initiatives in Rio de Janeiro’s favelas. At the Swedish Embassy in Brazil, she was responsible for organizing a seminar on Corporal Punishment of Children with the Ministry of Human Rights and Save the Children Sweden in the Brazilian National Congress in 2011. Discussions following the seminar lead up to the agreement of a new article on Corporal Punishment Prohibition in 2014 which made Brazil the largest country in the world to sign such a prohibition.

Including Bangladesh, Germany, Argentina and Brazil, Dr Ayeb-Karlsson has also lived, worked, and studied in England and Australia. She also has extensive international experience, having visited about 65 countries and has spent a large amount of time in South America, South as well as Southeast Asia. She is fluent in English, Swedish, Spanish and Portuguese with basic language skills in German and Bengali.

In 2015, she joined the work of the Lancet Commission and the Lancet Countdown that is tracking the connections between climate change and public health until 2030. Here she is part of WG1 and WG2 and mainly studies the linkages between climate change, mental health, migration and disasters; she is also the Latin and South American spokesperson and works closely with the Brazilian partner organizations in São Paulo and Porto Alegre.

Dr Ayeb-Karlsson is well-published including peer-reviewed articles in Ambio, Disasters, Sustainability Science and The Lancet. Her teaching in the areas of Global Health, Geography and Development Studies at BSMS, University of Sussex, and IDS includes the following undergraduate courses: Environmental Management and Sustainable Development (L7003), Disaster, Environment and Development (005DA), Skills and Concepts in Geography I-II (002GR/F8509) and the Postgraduate Master courses: Climate Change: Impacts and Adaptation (838F8), and Climate Resilient Development (CRD), at the University of Sussex and IDS, as well as the Postgraduate Master courses: Global Health Msc (BSMS), Risk Management in the Context of Climate Change (UM6/JM9-2) at the University of Bonn and UNU-EHS.

Kees van der Geest (PhD) is a human geographer who studies the impacts of climate change, human mobility, environmental change, adaptation, livelihood resilience and rural development. Key features of his work are the people-centred perspective and the mixed-method approach combining quantitative and qualitative research tools. His work has contributed substantially to expanding the empirical evidence base on migration-environment linkages and impacts of climate change beyond adaptation (“loss and damage”).

Kees has extensive fieldwork experience, mostly in Ghana (5 years), but also in Burkina Faso, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Nepal, Marshall Islands and Bolivia. He coordinated research in many other countries across the Global South. Since 2012 he has been working as a senior researcher at United Nations University Institute for Environment and Human Security in Bonn (UNU-EHS). In the ‘Migration and Environment’ section at UNU-EHS, he leads the work on migration, livelihood resilience and loss and damage from climate change. Between 2014 and 2017, he also co-organized the annual Resilience Academy, which is a network of approximately 100 young professionals working on resilience, loss and damage, and human mobility in the context of global environmental change. From 2016 to 2018, he has been on a part-time secondment to the University of Hawaii, where he was involved in a research project about migration and environment linkages in the Republic of the Marshall Islands.

Kees studied at the University of Amsterdam (human geography) and a semester at the University of Sussex (migration studies). His Master’s thesis and PhD thesis were published as monographs by the African Studies Centre. Several chapters of his PhD thesis about migration-environment linkages in Ghana have been published in international journals, such as International Migration, Africa, Environment & Urbanization and Forced Migration Review. Two articles from his PhD are in the top 50 of most influential articles on the relation between migration and the environment according to ISI web of knowledge.

From 2006 to 2012, Kees worked as a lecturer and researcher at the University of Amsterdam. He taught courses on environment and international development and his research covered the fields of migration, environment and rural development. In this period, he also worked as an independent research consultant. Among his clients have been the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, the Royal Tropical Institute in Amsterdam, CARE International, DFID Ghana and the Foresight programme of the UK Office for Science.

Kees has also been active as documentary film maker. His first, award-winning, documentary was screened at over 20 international film festivals worldwide. His second documentary received a nomination for the Holland-doc Jury Award of the Dutch Film Festival and has been watched more than 2.5 million times online.

Dr Saleemul Huq is the Director of the International Centre for Climate Change & Development (ICCCAD) since 2009. Dr Huq is also a Senior Fellow at the International Institute for Environment & Development (IIED), where he is involved in building negotiating capacity and supporting the engagement of the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) in UNFCCC including negotiator training workshops for LDCs, policy briefings and support for the Adaptation Fund Board, as well as research into vulnerability and adaptation to climate change in the least developed countries. Dr Huq has published numerous articles in scientific and popular journals, was a lead author of the chapter on Adaptation and Sustainable Development in the third assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and was one of the coordinating lead authors of ‘Inter-relationships between adaptation and mitigation’ in the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report (2007). Prior to this, he was at Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies (BCAS) where he was in charge of management and strategy of the organization. In 2000, he became an Academic Visitor at the Huxley School of Environment at Imperial College in London.

Dr Joanne Catherine Jordan is affiliated with the Global Development Institute, The University of Manchester, Manchester, UK. She is an environmental social scientist with over 10 years of experience as a researcher on climate change adaptation. Much of this work is based on intensive empirical research at the local level, mostly in Bangladesh and, more recently, India. She specializes in climate change resilience and vulnerability, risk perception and culture, and climate change communication and knowledge exchange for impact.

She is an Independent Research Consultant, Honorary Research Fellow at The University of Manchester, and a Visiting Researcher at the International Centre for Climate Change and Development. Prior to this she was a Lecturer at the University of Manchester, a Post-doctorate Research Fellow at the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations at Sciences Po in Paris, a Research Assistant at Queen’s University Belfast, and has worked at a range of not-for-profit organizations in Cambodia, Peru and Belize.

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